Publish date:

Behind the MLS Ambition Rankings: Portland Timbers

Go behind the numbers of the Portland Timbers' place in our MLS Ambition Rankings.

How much money has your team spent in the past five years on youth development? How much in the past year?

The club doubled down on youth development spending in 2014 and 2015 (with the hiring of youth technical director Larry Sunderland), and has increased its spending significantly since that point. The club now loses a net of $4 million a year between its youth development programs and its USL club, T2 ($3 million on youth development, $1 million on T2). Youth development is a focal point for the club, and it will continue to increase this investment each year with the goal of consistently producing players that contribute to the first team each year from 2020 on.

The club significantly increased spending at its development levels in the past year, realizing its first Homegrown Player (Marco Farfan, 18) to sign directly from the club’s Academy and T2 programs, while also seeing a host of young players ascend through the ranks of its two-year-old T2 USL affiliate, with the additions of Victor Arboleda (20), Rennico Clarke (21) and Kendall McIntosh (23) to the first-team roster in 2017.

Additionally, the club is investing in a significant expansion to its Academy facilities to accommodate the further growth of the club, and has steadily increased spending in its youth development staff and robust youth partnerships across its territory.

How many homegrown players have you signed? How many have played in MLS league games for your first team?

With a growing Academy now just over four years into its existence, the club has signed three Homegrown Players to date–including Timbers Academy product Marco Farfan, who signed with the Timbers on Oct. 14, 2016, as the youngest player-signing in the club’s MLS history (17 years of age). The club has a goal of producing one new Homegrown Player each year who will contribute to the first team from 2020 on and have a pipeline of prospects in its youth development system, which currently features a host of young talent in the likes of players Blake Bodily, Terrell Lowe and Adrian Villegas, among others. Additionally the club has signed three players from its T2 USL affiliate ahead of the 2017 season (Arboleda, Clarke, McIntosh).

How many season-ticket holders do you have? How many did you have in 2016?

The Timbers once again capped season tickets at 15,800 (same total as 2016) for the 2017 season and have a waiting list of more than 13,000 fans. The club has sold out every regular-season and playoff home game since joining MLS, a streak of 107 games and counting as the 2017 season begins. The Timbers have led the league in season ticket renewal rates every year of their MLS tenure, have set the league’s highest renewal rates in history five times and are actively exploring expansion to the stadium to increase capacity.

In addition to the Timbers, Portland Thorns FC (NWSL) have a season-ticket base of more than 10,000 fans heading into the 2017 NWSL season after averaging 17,000 fans per game in 2016, eclipsing their previous league record and ranking as the best-attended women’s club in the world.

Where does your first team train? Did you build the training facility yourself? If so, how much did it cost?

Club-built Adidas Timbers Training Center, located approximately 10 minutes from Providence Park. The club’s total investment in building and developing its training facilities to date is more than $10 million.

Did your team build its own stadium? If yes, how much money did the team spend on the stadium?

The Timbers play at the municipally owned Providence Park, an historic venue originally constructed in 1926 and transformed for MLS prior to the club’s inaugural season in 2011. Since being awarded the league’s 18th team in 2009, the club has invested more than $60 million in improvements to Providence Park. The club continues to explore a $50 million renovation concept that would transform the east side of the venue and increase capacity by approximately 4,000 fans.

Do you have a USL affiliate? How big is your budget this year for your USL team? 

The total budget for the entire T2 program is approaching $2 million and the club is investing heavily in its USL club, including staff, players, travel, operations, housing, broadcast and business expenses. With revenue applied against this, the club operates at a deficit of approximately $1 million, but the cost of development is necessary for the club’s continued growth and success.

How much money have you spent in the three previous years on Designated Players (transfer fees and salary)? How much are you spending on Designated Players this year?

SI Recommends

The club has consistently featured its full complement of three Designated Players and has made significant investments in these players in the form of transfer fees and salary. Transfer fees have been spent on Fanendo Adi, Lucas Melano and Sebastián Blanco over the last three years.

How much TAM have you spent since its inception in the middle of 2015 (including this year)?

The Timbers have used TAM on a number of key core players since its inception, including Adi, Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe and Liam Ridgewell. The club has made full use of its allotted TAM money, and the club’s utilization of these resources on important core players who were instrumental in the club lifting its first MLS trophy in 2015 is a great example of TAM’s value in strengthening its roster. 

How would you describe your investment in and use of data analytics? How many full-time analytics employees do you have?

The Timbers place increasing value on data analytics and currently utilize a number of different systems that gives the club the necessary information it needs to analyze player performance. The club currently has two data analysts on staff, which is among the highest in MLS.

Who is your jersey sponsor? What’s your total income on sponsorships this season?

Alaska Airlines. The club doesn’t disclose sponsor revenue but has consistently been in the top three clubs in MLS in total sponsor revenue.

Local TV deal: How many of your games this season are shown on local television? How much is your local TV deal worth per season? How big is your budget for presenting local TV broadcasts? Do your broadcasters travel on the road for local TV broadcasts?

In addition to at least 14 nationally televised games in 2017, the club’s remaining games will be televised, on ROOT Sports and KPTV FOX 12. These broadcasts feature a 30-minute postgame show, and the club’s broadcast package includes a highly rated weekly magazine show on KPTV FOX 12, “Timbers in 30.” In 2016, the Timbers had the highest local TV ratings in the league. The Timbers have one of the most favorable local TV deals in the league, featuring a five-state footprint and production quality among the best in the league. The club was honored as MLS Broadcast Team of the Year in 2014 and has fostered the growth of top broadcast talent, including John Strong and Robbie Earle, who both went from the club to prominent national broadcast positions following their work with the Timbers. The club controls all inventory as part of its broadcast deal, and all local broadcast media is sold in-house. The broadcast team travels to road games for regional/local broadcasts.

How many front-office employees does your team have? How many have you added or subtracted in the past year?

119 full-time employees (i.e. with benefits); up about 15 employees from last year.

What other sorts of details should we know about your club that are a good barometer of the club’s ambition?

There are several points to be made in terms of the club’s overall ambition, including how unique the Timbers and Thorns FC brands have been for the growth of soccer in the United States over the last six years, but below are two specific areas of focus:

The Timbers were the fifth-highest spending team in MLS on first-team talent for both the 2015 and 2016 seasons, with a considerable gap over the group of teams behind them. While Toronto, NYCFC, LA Galaxy, etc. have been in the “high-spender” category, it is not accurate to group the Timbers in with a second tier. The club has consistently had three Designated Players and has invested considerably in the transfer market, including significant transfer expenditures for Chara, Diego Valeri, Adi, Melano and Blanco.

While this is an MLS-focused survey, Portland Thorns FC deserve to be a big factor in terms of the club’s ambitions. The club’s investment in the women’s game and the Thorns position as the gold standard for women’s club soccer is a reflection of its overall ambition as a soccer club, not just a men’s soccer club.